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Weekly Word

Entries in Connection (3)

Monday
Feb132017

Connecting to the Body of Christ

1 Corinthians 12:12-27.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on February 12, 2017.

Here at Abundant Life Christian Fellowship in Everett, WA, we have summed up the mission that God has for our church in these words: Connect people to the Abundant Life found in Jesus.  Last week we talked about how the starting point is for people to connect to Jesus Christ by putting their trust or faith in his teachings and in his work.  Today, we are going to deal with the reality that those who connect to Jesus will be moved to connect to his body, The Church. 

Of course many people scoff at organizational churches and some of them are Christians.  Let’s recognize up front that this has some justification behind it.  We don’t have time to walk through all of those issues.  But it is important to recognize that the Bible reveals that Jesus is creating a group of followers that can be thought of in macro terms, The Church (at all times and all places), and in the micro (a small, local gathering of some of these believers).  We are all part of the universal, macro Church when we are spiritually born again.  But not all are convinced that micro-gatherings are necessary.  Thus they are content to “believe” in Jesus, and yet never face the issue that Jesus is wanting to connect them to other believers.  Suffice it to say, if we are connecting to Jesus then we have no choice of whether or not we are going to connect to his body because this is what his Spirit is trying to accomplish.  If you have put your faith in Jesus, he is working by His Spirit to connect you to his people in some local expression of his greater body.  Let’s look at the passage before us.

Believers all belong to the Body of Christ

In this passage Paul is explaining to the Corinthians why their worldly thinking in the area of spiritual gifts (and many other areas for that matter) was woefully lacking.  They had developed a very fractured and divisive group of believers in Corinth.  Paul explains that there is only one body, and yet many members.  Here he brings up the analogy of a human body.  Jesus, who was no longer here in the flesh, still has an earthly body, and that is His Church.  Thus each believer represents a diversity of gifts and functioning through which the Holy Spirit fits us together in order to operate as Christ’s body.  Now, Paul’s focus is on the individual members.  Even though they are very different, they are still part of one body, just as the individual parts of the body are vastly different and yet all work together for the one body.  Though he doesn’t state this here, in Ephesians 4:11-16 Paul explains that Jesus himself is the head of this body.  Just as the brain sends signals to very different aspects of the body to do very different things, it is all for the singular good of the whole body.  The Corinthians understood the diversity, but not that each part is supposed to be directed by the Spirit for the unified good of the whole.  Ephesians 4 makes it even clearer that we who are connected to Jesus by the Spirit, are also supposed to connect to his earthly body through other believers.

Thus all those earthly divisions that divide this world and are used to gain power for certain ones, is not embraced by the Spirit of Christ.  In verse 13 Paul lists 2 of these divisions: race and economic status.  Whether Jew or Gentile, Free or Slave, those who come to Christ are members regardless of what people may say.  You are a member because Jesus says so, and because the Holy Spirit is working to connect you to it.  We who are believers need to be quick to embrace and welcome new believers.  Of course this is easier said than done.  Do you remember how the believers responded to Saul of Tarsus when he repented of persecuting Christians and became one of them?  They were afraid to associate with him at first.

In verses 15-20 Paul points out that our differences are not meant to divide us.  Now he is not talking about doctrinal differences here.  When it comes to the teaching of the Bible and our interpretations, we need to recognize that certain things have always been recognized as essentials to the faith.  You must repent of sin; that is essential.  Another essential is the deity of Jesus Christ, and His coming Day of the Restoration of all things.  I could go on.  But I hope you get the point.  Some “beliefs” are heretical.  They should never be embraced even for the sake of unity.  Why?  Remember we are to unify with other believers of the faith, not those who believe just anything.  A good statement that has been around for several centuries is this: In Essentials Unity, in Non-Essentials Liberty, and in All Things Charity.  Historically we have often divided over non-essentials and generally without much charity.  Paul on the other hand is talking about our spiritual giftedness and our natural background.  Though they may be very diverse, it is not in order to keep us segregated.  The diversity is on purpose and is meant to strengthen the body and better equip it.  So the differences are meant to strengthen our unity, not weaken it.

Notice in verse 15 that Paul gives some examples.  These first examples all involve a member excluding themselves.  In this case, Paul mentions that they may exclude themselves because they aren’t like another member (perhaps a more visible or “distinguished” member).  The Corinthians saw spiritual gifts as a sort of heavenly commendation.  They all wanted to speak in other languages because in their social context that represented the highest gift.  Of course Paul tells them that they are wrong.  In their mentality, speaking in tongues was a sign that you were extremely close to God.  The more unintelligible something was, the closer to God it must be.  Paul explains to them that this is completely backwards.  The whole reason why the Spirit of God draws believers together is so that they can encourage one another.  Thus Paul, who had nothing against speaking in tongues, counseled them to at least have their “tongues” interpreted so that it could help the other believers.  The Corinthians had it backwards.  The gifts of God (both natural and spiritual) are not given to an individual for their own good, but to enable them to help others.  We need to learn to embrace the natural differences that we have with others, and to also embrace the spiritually diverse ways that God works through us.  When you exclude yourself, the rest of the body goes without the function that God has gifted you with.  No we can’t all be an eye or the lips.  It is not about what I want, but about how God is fitting me into the body.  Don’t exclude yourself because you take away from what God has for others, and you lose out on what God wants to give you through those others.

In verse 21 the example switches.  Notice that here the parts are excluding others.  The proud members can exclude the “weaker” members.  Of course this was being interpreted by worldly thinking and not the mind of Christ.  All new Christians are “weak” in the faith because their faith hasn’t weathered the storms of doubts, fears, and persecution that older Christians have.  Thus those who are strong should not exclude the weak, but quite the opposite.  Your strength is not for you, it is for the sake of the weak.  Help them and strengthen them.  Pride has the tendency to exclude others, whereas shame has the tendency to exclude self.  But in Christ, both pride and shame are supposed to be dealt with at the cross.  The cross speaks to our pride and says, “Only Jesus is worthy of our boasting.”  The cross speaks to our shame and says, “This is how greatly and by whom you are loved!”  Thus the proud come away humbled and the shameful come away healed.  On one hand none of us are anything, and yet, on the other hand, we are everything to God.  This great tension is meant to take vastly different people and help them to be welded into a unit called the body of Christ.  However, it is only possible if we are listening to the Spirit and being led by Him.

Do not look to leadership or being a pastor as something great.  These are not the greatest positions within the Church.  These are actually positions of servitude.  True leaders who are lead by the Holy Spirit will realize that He is asking them to lay down their lives in order to serve the rest.  Why are they being served?  They are served so that they can do the work of sharing Jesus with the world around them.  There won’t be any pastors in the eternal state.  We will all stand side by side as the adult children of God and enjoy His presence forever.

Connecting to the Body audio

Tuesday
Feb072017

Connecting to the Source of Life

John 15:1-8.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on February 5, 2017.

Our mission statement, here at Abundant Life Christian Fellowship, is: Connecting people to the Abundant Life found in Jesus.  This is a brief and succinct way of saying what our Lord has told us to do.  Connections are a big part of what God is trying to do in this world.  Yet, these connections must be more than just a natural thing.  This all starts with making a spiritual connection to the ultimate, spiritual source of life that is found in Jesus.

In our passage today, Jesus uses a picture of a vine and its branches to help us understand the reality of both an outward connection and a inward connection.  It is not enough to just look like you are connected.  A branch can be physically connected to the tree and yet not be drawing life from it.  So it is imperative that we hear the Spirit of God calling us to a living connection.  Calling us with the words, “Come!   Let him who thirsts come.  Whoever desires let him take the water of life freely.”

Jesus is the true vine

Let’s look at verses 1-3 first.  Jesus describes the metaphor and identifies what each part signifies.  Jesus is the true vine.  His disciples are the branches that are connected to him.  The Father is the gardener who is tending to the branches of the vine in order that it might bear more fruit.  Jesus doesn’t explain how they became branches connected to him.  So let’s flesh that out a bit.

How does one get to be a branch connected to Jesus?  John 3:16 becomes a good starting point.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son that whoever believes on Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”  Thus the connection begins with belief in Jesus (Faith, Trust).  Do you trust that the work of Jesus on the cross covers your sin?  And, do you trust that following him as your master will lead to eternal life?  If you do then the Spirit of God connects you to Christ by taking up residence within you.  John 1:12-13 also says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”  Thus when the reality of who Jesus is comes to us, we must receive Him as He is, God’s Son.  Still, our spiritual birth is a spiritual thing, not a natural thing.  No one becomes connected to Jesus because they were born in a particular family or of a particular race.  We must individually believe in Him.  Lastly Romans 11 tells us that God grafts us into the olive tree, which is Jesus, so that we can partake in the life of the tree and its roots.  So we have a part in receiving the Truth that God gives us about Jesus and believing Him enough to follow Him.  God does the spiritual part of connecting us spiritually to Jesus.

Notice that Jesus calls himself the “true” vine.  He doesn’t say anything more about that in the rest of the passage, and so we might miss its significance.  If there is a true vine then it implies that there has been a false vine or many false vines.  The presence of a false vine had been promising life, but had actually delivered spiritual death to the religious leaders of Israel.  They had been tempted to connect to something other than the One, True God.  Of course, on the surface it looked like they were.  But that was only a superficial connection.  Their true spiritual connection was to the ways of the world, to the devil himself.  This is our human predicament.  We tend to connect to all manner of things that we hope will bring us life, but they never satisfy.  Jesus is the true vine that will actually deliver on the life that it promises.  He is not a pretender.

In verse 2 we are told that the Father prunes the branches because He wants them to be fruitful.  So what is this fruit that God desires?  Just as Jesus is a life giving vine, so God wants us to be life giving branches.  The fruit represents that which gives life.  Galatians 5 tells us that the fruit of the Spirit of God in our life is Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control.  But it also says that the fruit of my own flesh and connection with this world is: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.  Then Paul says, “I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”  So there is a certain amount of cutting that happens in the life of a follower of Jesus who is spiritually connected to Him.  They will be pruned so that they can be more fruitful.  Pruning always starts with cutting off the dead stuff.  It stresses the tree and robs it of strength to grow more fruit.  Pruning also cuts off perfectly good twigs.  This is done because sunlight and oxygen have trouble hitting all parts of the tree.  We can complain with things that God removes from our life, but He does so for our own good; that we might be a fruitful branch.

A Connection to Him gives Life

Verses 4-8 give us a better picture of what it means to draw life from Jesus and it begins with a command.  It is not enough to connect to Jesus for a moment or temporarily.  We must abide in Him.  That word is also translated as “remain,” or “dwell.”  Jesus needs to become the source that we are hoping to draw life from.  And, in those times when we are tempted to find another source, we must resist the urge to move.  It doesn’t work to “try” Jesus for a week, a month, a year, or decade.  We must remain in Him and keep drawing into ourselves the life that He is supplying.  So the temptation comes from our flesh and the world around us to disconnect from Jesus and to connect to the so-called life of this world.  But in the end it only leads to death.  This is what Adam and Eve faced.  They were living in connection to God.  It wasn’t just superficial.  He was their very life.  But one day the devil comes as the serpent and tempts them to connect to something else.  You can’t have both.  To connect with the wisdom of the devil is to automatically disconnect from the wisdom of God.  And thus, death entered the world.

In verse 5 Jesus makes it clear that producing any real fruit is impossible without Him.  Some people’s lives look very fruitful because they are making money and living the high life.  But, that is not good fruit that gives life.  You can accomplish all manner of things without Jesus, but none of them will satisfy your soul and give you a life that is so powerful that it is eternal.  Fruitfulness that is recognized by God is only accomplished by following Jesus and nothing else.

In verses 6 and 7 we are reminded again that the connection must be a living connection.  There must be life flowing from Jesus to us.  Now this part of the passage can be seen as each branch being an individual person.  From time to time God cuts off those who have remained in His Church but are only pretending a connection to Him.  They refuse to draw life from Him by trusting the way of Jesus.  However, it is also true that God goes through our life from time to time and asks us to surrender particular areas of growth that may not be bad in and of themselves.  But, they must be removed if we are to be fruitful.  So Jesus points to His Word remaining in us as a further description of Him living in us.  When we hear the Word of God it is speaking to us about what should be cut off and what should be encouraged to grow.  The Holy Spirit also convicts us in our hearts to surrender in trust to the words of Jesus.  In these moments we either draw life from Christ or we harden our heart towards his life.  The enemy of our souls seeks to make us question God’s Word and quit trusting, believing it.  This is what he did with Adam and Eve.  “Did God really say…”  Always, he seeks to break that living connection that we have with the Spirit of God.

Lastly in verses 7-8 Jesus speaks to the area of prayer.  He points out that our prayers are affected by this connection.  The disciples were often amazed at the power of Jesus’ prayers.  For our prayers to be answered we must have a living connection with God.  That living connection is maintained by hearing and putting our trust in it.  Yes, it is important to obey God’s word, but we must do more than that.  We must obey out of a trust in God himself and all that He says.  Now some people try to take this passage to mean that you can have anything you want if you are connected to Jesus.  But, don’t forget that a living connection to Jesus will change what your heart desires.  At least it will cause the things of God to rise to the top.  When you are trusting in Jesus you aren’t praying from the desires of your flesh.  Instead you are praying from a heart and life that has learned the wisdom of God’s pruning.  Even in our prayer life, God is trying to teach us how to prune our own prayers.  Do you want your prayers to be fruitful?  Then learn to pray in accordance with the Spirit of God, rather than the lusts of your flesh.  Our lives can bring glory to God when we trust Him and prayerfully ask His help in this life.

I pray that you have made that connection to Jesus.  But if you haven’t don’t let another day go by without letting go of the false vine of this world and the false life that it promises.  Take hold of eternal life today by putting your faith in Jesus.  Then start drawing life from Him immediately by entering into a trusting relationship with Him.

Connecting audio

Monday
Nov282016

Not by Bread Alone

Matthew 4:1-4.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on November 27, 2016.

The commercialization of all things good usually brings out the worst in humanity.  Thus, after a day that is focused on being thankful, many go out and shout, fight, and wrestle over the best deals of the year, Black Friday.  As Christians we must not lose sight of the reality behind Thanksgiving, or its reason for being.  In fact we dare not lose sight of the reason for our lives themselves.  Thanksgiving has nothing to do with getting the best deals on the latest electronic gadget.  But, rather, it is about stopping in the midst of our often busy lives and showing appreciation for what we already have, despite what we may not have.

Today we are going to look at Jesus during a time in his life where we are allowed to see Satan trying to tempt Him.  I believe these temptations are instructive and valuable to us so that we can know that we do not live by bread alone.

We are tested by material things

In Matthew 4 we are told that Jesus is “led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”  It is clear that the Spirit had a purpose that involved this word “tempted.”  In the passage the devil is also called the “Tempter,” (same word but as a noun).  Now we know that the Spirit is not in league with the devil so what is going on here?

Part of the mystery lies in the word that is translated “tempted.”  When this word is used in a situation that is for something good, say refining metal, it means something more like “to prove or test.”  When the word is used in a bad situation, say blowing all your money on gambling and drinking, it means “to tempt.”  We would never say that a teacher is tempting a child when they give them a test because our focus is on the intent.  The Greek’s chose to use the same word because in both cases you are being tested.  Here we know that it is the Spirit’s purpose to test Jesus in order to prove who He is.  But it is Satan’s purpose to tempt Jesus, disqualify Him, and bring Him under control.

Perhaps you have struggled with understanding why God lets temptation or challenges exist in your life.  It is because He knows that they can strengthen and prove our faith in Him.  Even our past failures are used by God to make our faith stronger.  Times of temptation can help us grow by revealing areas of weakness that we need to surrender to God.  God can and will give you the victory over your spiritual enemy if you will trust Him.  On the other hand, Satan actively tempts us in order to pull us away from God and bring into bondage under his dominion.  He uses our past failures as chains to keep us from turning to God and believing Him.

One of the main things that Satan tempts us with is material things.   This is on display in the first temptation.  But let’s further explore the setting.  We are told that Jesus fasted and prayed for 40 days in the wilderness.  You see, the Spirit was leading Jesus towards spiritual purposes.  Jesus was spiritually preparing to go to war against the evil spirits that had taken control of Israel, and then the whole world.  Satan may have showed up throughout the 40 days and Matthew may only be recording three of many temptations.  Regardless, the first we are told about involves breaking his fast by creating bread from the stones around him.  It is here that we should recognize that we often lose the spiritual by pursuing the material.  Even deeper, often letting go of the material is necessary to receive spiritual gain.  Another thing to recognize is that most of what we have spiritually has come through combat with the Tempter.

Most translations quote the devil as saying to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God.”  It sounds like Satan is questioning this fact.  However, this Greek conditional does not necessarily bring the first part in question.  It has the sense of this, “If you are the Son of God [and we both know you are, why don’t you] command that these stones become bread.”  The temptation is to prove what you know to be true for fleshly reasons, rather than trusting God to demonstrate the truth at the proper time.  If we boil it further down, the temptation is to follow your flesh rather than the Spirit of God.  The Spirit of God had led Jesus to a hungry, weakened condition, where there was no food around.  Why not use your power to get off such a loathsome path?

This doesn’t always have to be about something material like bread.  The Corinthian Church members even used the spiritual gifts that God had given them of speaking in unknown languages to please their fleshly desire for pride and high standing with the other Church members.  Thus the material is not so much the problem as the desires of our flesh.  When we let our fleshly desires lead it always takes us away from what God wants to do in our life.

So God is not against the material things in your life.  However, He knows that they cannot save you.  Jesus responds to the Devil by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3. “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”  The passage Jesus quotes is not about forbidding bread to people.  In fact God had supernaturally provided bread (manna) for Israel while they were in the wilderness.  The passage is pointing out that God had revealed to Israel that their life was not about the things we see around us, but about what God says.  Thus a person can be surrounded by food and yet lack life, especially eternal life.  Yet, a person can be in a wilderness where there is nothing and they will live because of what God commands.  Up to 6 million Israelites survived in a barren wilderness because God commanded it.  Can he not take care of you?  God knows that you have physical needs, but He also knows that the desires of your flesh generally pull you away from Him and His ways.  This temptation that the Devil brings to Jesus, he also brings to us.  He wants to rob you of the greater treasure that God has for you, and trap you in a materialistic prison.  If you have failed this test then quit trying to “make bread out of stones,” (a.k.a. trying to make it happen by your power).  Yes, we don’t have the same power that Jesus had, but we are tempted in the same kind of way.  Let it go!

We are given life by the Word of God

Throughout history Christians have pointed to the tactic that Jesus employs here as the key for our own victory.  Jesus used God’s Word (or The Truth) to counteract the twisted, false logic of the Devil.  This doesn’t make it easy.  Often the “lie” that Satan is offering us is something that our flesh wants to believe.  Now Jesus had the power to attack Satan head on.  Through His divine power He could have commanded Satan to be locked up in the Abyss, or Bottomless Pit (a spiritual prison for evil Spirits, 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 1:6; Revelation 9).  But Jesus did not stand against Satan in this way.  Instead, Jesus resisted Satan as a human can, or as you and I can.  If we take time to familiarize ourselves with the Truth of God’s Word, then we are equipped to neutralize the lies of the enemy of our soul.  Each of Satan’s lies and temptations are like a small chain that is used to tie us up into spiritual knots.  Though you may be tied up in a pretzel and powerless, the Word of God through Jesus Christ is not.  No matter how bound up a person is they can be set free through this same tactic: stop trusting the lies of Satan and start trusting Jesus, the Son of God.  Don’t settle for others in your life to know the Bible.  You need to know it for yourself.  Your spiritual life depends upon it.

The Word of God not only counteracts the deceptions of Satan, but it also keeps us in connection with the Source of Life.  Satan ultimately wants to sever any connection you have to the Spirit of God by getting to your trust.  In Romans 8:14 Paul says, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.”  One of God’s amazing truths is that He adopts into His family everyone who dares to believe Jesus and follow Him.  As a believer in Jesus and a disciple of Jesus, the Spirit of God leads us to put to death the deeds that are inspired by our fleshly desires.  However, Satan tempts us to give into satisfying those same fleshly desires.  In fact Scriptures tells us that our flesh is hostile to the things of God even as a Christian (Romans 8:7).  Rebellion against God’s revealed will, or ignoring His Spirit because we are so inebriated with our fleshly desires and materialism, both become a barrier between us and the Source of Eternal Life.  Even though the world around you may say that you cannot live without such and such, it does so because it has given into the temptations of Satan.  When we are trapped in materialistic lies, we become a part of a system that helps the Tempter by being a temptation ourselves.  Why would you want to be like the devil and take on his image, when the Spirit of God is offering to make you into the image of Jesus?  May we shine out as bright lights in this world of darkness.  May we be the children of God who are being led by the Spirit of God to inherit all things along with the One and Only Unique Son of God, Jesus.

Not by Bread Alone audio